sport

How the mighty have fallen

ICC World Cup 2019: Defending champions Australia get the beating of their lives as England steamroll the Old Enemy to enter World Cup final.

Chins cut open. Blood flowing. Runs looted. Batsmen embarrassed—have one ever seen Australia hammered like this since Kim Hughes limped away in tears in 1981? And that too in a World Cup semifinal?

It felt weird, strange, and unbelievable. Once in 2000, Robert Craddock, an Australian writer, wrote a lovely line in the Herald Sun about Indians who had sleepwalked that summer Down Under. “Come on India, Get angry, Get aggressive, shake a leg, fight back, for goodness sake, do something.”

READ | Umpiring howler leads to Jason Roy’s dissent in semifinal

Even if one has a pathological hatred for the Australian cricket team (like some of the English fans do) and in the mood for schadenfreude, one couldn’t have envisioned a day when one would think those (Craddock’s) lines could be repeated about Australia in a World Cup semifinal. One might have wished for such a day, but couldn’t have imagined its possibility.

Australia has been a great cricket team for so many decades now, shoving teams out of tournaments. Remember how Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn pulverised India in the 2003 World Cup final? Remember how they hammered Pakistan in 1999? That walloping of Sri Lanka in 2007? The walkover against New Zealand in 2015?

No other team has so consistently turned up on the big day. They have lost before, like against India in the 2011 edition, but not like this. This was brutal. Eoin Morgan, England’s captain, called it a “nice day out” for his team.

READ | ‘A new world champion’: Cricketers react to England progressing to World Cup final

Aaron Finch, Australia’s captain, put up a brave face and was pretty gracious in defeat. When he was talking about Glenn Maxwell’s poor form, he supported his team-mate, and ended with: “Cricket is a hard game.” He was talking about Maxwell, but could well have been talking about his day as a captain, probably the worst an Australian has had in a big tournament.

Finch has had bad days before, like when he was 15 in grade cricket and first heard from a club-mate, older than him, those lines that he just said at the presser – “Cricket is a hard game…”

***

Andre Borovec remembers a bat cartwheeling towards him when he stepped out to bat. He had to jump out of the way to escape the missile. A 15-year-old Finch had just been given out lbw and had taken out his ire. Those were bad days. A kid playing with adults in grade cricket, and the game had looked very tough. “That phase at Geelong club was probably the toughest initiation and days for him,” Borovec, who has known Finch as a kid, coached him, played with him, and is now the assistant coach of Big Bash League team Melbourne Renegades, that Finch led to the title last season.

READ | Jason Roy escapes final ban after dissent fine

“He was playing with men. Things weren’t going his way. We, the seniors in that Geelong club, were patient with him; we knew he was a good nice kid with talent. I remember a chat where I told him, ‘Cricket is a hard game, no doubt about it. You can make it harder by being in too much of a rush. By getting ahead of the game. Wait, learn, be patient and things will change’.”

Finch listened and his career changed. “He always has surrounded himself with people who gave him intel, from whom he could learn. He would constantly ask us older people about match scenarios and how to deal with them. What to do. Soon, not only did his batting become solid but he also started to captain. Australian captaincy didn’t surprise any of us.”

Finch has always been a competitive sportsman. “You could be playing cards or swimming together but he would be competitive. He just loved winning. Early on, when things didn’t go his way, he would ‘spit the dummy’ (lose his temper). He matured rapidly and has been in control since. He is a well-liked man by his team-mates.”

Finch might well send a text to Borovec now: “cricket is a hard game”. It was a brutal day, roasted in Birmingham.

***

“We are cynical. We are like this. We don’t give enough credit. And sometimes we like it too much being that way.” – This was Morgan when asked why there was a disbelief in the media and among fans about whether England could beat their arch rivals in a big semifinal, why was there a feeling of pessimism when England have been such a good ODI team?

Finch is an Australian who loves winning. Morgan is an Irishman who hates losing. Or so it feels. He has a poker face, but when the team loses one can see, it does something to him. A captain who loves winning, and another who hates losing. The latter won the day.

Without the bowlers, Morgan couldn’t have done it. Did one see the moment when Alex Carey, Australia’s find of the tournament, had his chin attended to by the physio? Jofra Archer was leaning on an advertising board, relaxed and looking pretty cool. He could well have lit up a cigar, donned a pair of sunglasses, and puffed away. Chill, cool, and deadly. It was he who took out Finch with a length ball that tailed in at some pace – an old Finch problem, what a day to re-surface, just when he must have thought he had that covered.

Chris Woakes got one to kick up at David Warner who stabbed at it, out of balance, as if he had just slipped on a banana peel and was about to go down, hands flailing, one foot in the air. Adil Rashid ripped his googlies and leg-breaks to bewilder a few Australians.

Without the England batsmen, the shellacking couldn’t have been completed. Jason Roy bashed the living daylights out of Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon – and it would be utterly silly if he doesn’t open in the Ashes Tests that start next month.

He has been that good here, and what a difference he has made to this team after his return from injury. If one needs to find just one reason why the English batting has been so awesome, it’s J Roy. as he is called by team-mates.

Only Steve Smith and Carey had a decent day. They kept booing him and Smith kept fighting on – that was the only phase when it seemed the unit looked Australian.

Of course, the credit has to be given to England; they made the Aussies look like imposters. They made us rub our eyes in disbelief. They shellacked Australia. They even awed us. What a transformation in the last four years. From no-hopers, from a team that played such outdated cricket to this.

Even Morgan wouldn’t have believed it. Really. This is what he said: “If you had told me that we would be in the next World Cup final, a day after we crashed out in the 2015 World Cup, I would have laughed at you.”





But let’s leave the “cynical” English with a grim thought. Do they have anything in their tank after their best ODI performance ever? Would it be a clean-shaven Irishman or the bearded Kane Williamson smiling on Sunday evening?

Follow the Cricket World Cup 2019 live updates and real-time analysis on IndianExpress.com. Check the ICC Cricket World 2019 Schedule, Teams and Points Table.

Source: Read Full Article